Flanked by rose bushes and bathed in sunlight, the entrance to Arden + James and Barbara Moore Fine Art is an idyllic sight for sore eyes along the bustling Route 1 corridor in Chadds Ford. With its oversized patio furniture and twinkling fairy lights, the historic brick building is one of the Chadds Ford Barn Shops.
Originally founded in 1969, the shops have undergone a renaissance over the past year. Not coincidentally, it happened when Arden + James owner Bri Brant and her father, John Anderson, took over in February 2017. The longtime Chadds Ford residents celebrated with a re-launch last September, and they’ve since gone about reinventing the shared spaces.
Once a popular stopover for visitors heading to Longwood Gardens, fast-moving traffic, changing shop configurations and other factors led to its decline. “At one time, we had so many businesses here, we had bus tours,” recalls Barbara Moore, owner of the namesake studio in the Chadds Ford Barn Shops. “It was that busy of a place.”
At one point, there were some 18 businesses. Today, there are about a dozen, including a yoga studio, a spa and a florist. Brant hopes to bring some of that buzz and bustle back, though her real focus is on creating a valued community space for residents. “We randomly saw it [was for sale] and just knew this was our family’s calling to create this space for everybody,” says Brant. “Chadds Ford has been really missing that for a long time.”
The space Brant partially occupies alongside Barbara Moore Fine Art was formerly the Chadds Ford Gallery, once a stalwart for local works and reproductions, where Moore spent over 40 years as manager. It closed last year when the previous owner moved to Florida. Now it showcases original area artists alongside Brant’s handmade leather bags.
Creating is a family affair for Brant. Her late mother was an artist, her father is a carpenter, and her husband is a musician. “I know this is what my mom wanted our family to do,” she says.
Years ago, the Brants moved to Colorado to escape the corporate world. They’ve since returned to be close to family. It was out west that the beginnings of Arden + James took shape. Over the years, Brant has sold her bags online and at local retailers like worKS in Kennett Square. Now she’s glad to have her own space. “This is my dream,” says Brant. “This is like my flagship. It just couldn’t be any better.”
As a teenager, Brant worked at a Wawa just across the street from the shops. There, she would see members of the community every day. “That’s always been my dream, to recreate that whole community atmosphere and have a place where all the neighbors can get together,” she says.
Hence the additional outdoor seating at Chadds Ford Barn Shops. There are now two pergolas with Adirondack chairs and benches, plus a fire pit and even a small bar. Initiatives have also included new signage. “I think it’s their approach to the township that is the reason that it’s worked so well,” says Moore.
Perhaps the most significant step is the Chadds Café, which officially debuts this month in the former barn. With its exposed brick floors and sleek white walls, the space is contemporary while still paying homage to its past with antique furnishings. The menu features coffee and breakfast items, and the café sells products like honey and candles. Brandywine Coffee Roasters, an offshoot of Delaware’s Brew Ha Ha!, makes a custom Barn Shops roast.
The idea is to draw a crowd that lingers. It should be a magnet for guests at the nearby Brandywine River Hotel, and it may even become a place for book clubs, small lectures and workshops. “We’ll see what people are into,” Brant says.
And she couldn’t be happier about Chadds Ford’s walkability initiative, with its proposed walking paths in the heart of the village. “We’ve been working with the Brandywine Conservancy, the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Chadds Ford Historical Society,” says Brant. “If we all just keep our energy in the same place, we can really make sure that this is a destination like it always was.”